I don't recall a more perfect fall, slipping slowly by degrees to winter. Usually, or has been the case over the last years , it's 98 degrees on Wednesday and by Friday there's snow on the ground. Summer ends and winter starts. Maybe its all the rain we had that sets the trees on fire. I know, I know.. waxing poetic about the switch of seasons is cheesy. I have cancer, ha! I shall muse as I damn well please.
I haven't really thought about cancer lately. It comes in flashes now, which means one of two things; I've learned to reckon with it or I have a wicked case of denial. I can't help but think about it when the damned bills come. I now know why the insurance industry is so expensive. Everything they do involves an envelope and paper. The overhead for mailings alone must reach into the bajillions of dollars. And its not even the bills, it's the lead-up to the bills. I have received a piece of paper that tells me "Hang on we're just looking to see if you need to pay us" every day (cept Sundays of course) for four months. Everyday. Now, lets do the math. I've been rolling in and out of Dr.'s offices pretty steadily since July 22nd. If we assume a mailing once a day (and that's a low assumption) at .35 each for 84 days I'm running the company about $30 in paper so far. This is only the beginning. I'm going to cost them, baseline, one hundred dollars a year in paper THAT DOESN'T SAY ANYTHING! I am excluding from my equations and calculations the paper that actually does say something, like "You owe us $16,457.09". (I love the .09 part). And I can't be the only one getting these letters of nothingness. Even if there were, say, 8 of us (and I believe more cancer-folks than that are under insured by my insurance company), that would be $800 a year in paper that says nothing. That's like half a bag of Herceptin, 2 scripts for Oxycodone, an eighth of an MRI. I'm just saying...you know, man on the moon craziness here, but maybe insurance giants could learn how to cut a few corners. Those of us on the receiving end most certainly do. These are hard times.
Its a funny thing when items show up in your mailbox asking you for three quarters of the money you've made over the last year. It pulls into question yr chosen career path. A typical day at the mailbox often includes a quick review of the moments in my life where I could have made the decision to be a millionaire. "Hmmmm, if I had taken Advanced Economics or Computer Programming in college instead of Girlhood in America or Advanced Creative Writing would I be looking down the barrel of the same gun?" Considering the state of the economy the answer is likely yes. But this whole episode, this whole cancer bit, has got me thinking about art and artists and songs and poems and their real validity versus their perceived validity as a major component in culture.
On several "music" message boards in the area there seems to be a standing belief that pursuing music or songwriting as a viable career is misguided to say the least. There is a feeling that those of us who have tried and achieved varying degrees of success in music are living out some adolescent fantasy and why don't we just go get "real jobs"? Real jobs? The implication here is if I had a "real job" than I wouldn't have to worry about health coverage, financial stability, the future. Some of the nastier inferences seem to suggest that if I'd just shaped up maybe I wouldn't even have cancer. Wowsers!
A group of people are stepping up to help me, the folks from Apocalypse Meow. I have played benefits for musicians, too, as a way of offering support when they've been faced with the financial harpship of a medical emergency. We are a benefit having people. I have always believed musicians as important as HVAC folk or programmers or schoolteachers. I beleived that before I got cancer. I believed that before I ever got on a stage or strung a guitar. Songs make up memory. What played at yr wedding? What played at yr first kiss? What played when you lost yr first love? Songs did. The people who made them are important. As far as I'm concerned, writing the soundtrack of the world is a pretty "real" job.
"But yr not making money off it!" "But yr not doing a stadium tour!" "Yr not really a musician because you don't have a video on MTV! " "Are you on the radio??" Ahhhhhh!!
Perhaps it is because I am the daughter of a working actress that all that malarkey drives me to drink. My mother was an actress who never starred in a major motion picture. She never dated Colin Farrell or made the cover on InTouch magazine. She quietly worked hard and made enough money to keep a (Manhattan, and not Kansas) roof over our heads and send me to the best school she could afford. As an actress. Her union is taking care of her now. Working musicians are worth the same respect, deserving of the same securities as any other performing folk. And I'm not just talking about the chamber music people or the orchestra lovelies. The people making music night after night in bars across the country, across this city, are worthy of respect and security. If they are out there, night after night, year after year, with little return on their investment of time, they did not choose it, it chose them. There is nothing romantic or glamorous about sleeping in the van, living with your band mates, eating beans and rice, or working 3 part-time jobs to support yr full-time job. Their work is worth preserving and they are worth protecting. If no one else will do it, damn it, I will.
I was reminded last week that music is a game of attrition by someone who knows a thing or two about all that. A career is not hits or videos or money. All those things are nice. (Especially when standing at the mailbox with a $16,000 bill in yr hand). Staying in the game long enough to make great records and sell a few, put on good shows, sell a couple songs, and not give up. That's a job. Not a fucking J-O-B, but a life's work. That's worth pursuing, sacrificing, and believing in.
It's worth kicking cancer in the motherscratching teeth so I can get back to figuring it out.